March 27, 2017, 8:40 pm
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DICT telecom summit tackles PH infostructure issues

MANDATED to solve the issues that affect telecommunications in the country, the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) held the very first Philippine Telecoms Summit to bring in all stakeholders and hear all voices in order to come up with implementable solutions to the current and expected problems faced by the sector.

Carrying the theme “Telecommunications for Nation Building: National Consensus and Solutions for Progress”  is aimed at forming the solutions that will lead to better internet and telecoms services.

Along with the DICT, the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO ran the event that brought together various industry stakeholders, industry players Globe, Smart, PLDT, vendors such as Huawei, ZTE and Ericcson, other related government agencies and regulators, academic and technical experts, and consumer groups.

At the forefront in all the panel discussions, called “Tapatan” are the problems and issues surrounding the state of telecommunications today. Two sessions were held moderated by seasoned radio and TV hosts.

For two days, the summit tackled the various achievements, but more importantly the pain points the telecom sector face in its delivery of services to the consumers. It focused on three aspects that directly affect the dynamics between telcos and its customers—price, speed and coverage of telco services.

“This is not a blaming session, but a venue to open up discussion to resolve issues in the sector,” explained DICT Secretary Rodolfo A. Salalima. 

“We are here to see what the problems are and find the most suitable and lasting solution,” the DICT head said in the press conference after his speech. When asked about the impact of the summit on the just approved National Broadband Plan (NBP), Salalima said that the direct benefit is that the most implementable solutions will be available in order to ensure the NBP will be successful.

The Secretary also reiterated that the correct term to use was the “infostructure” as both the physical and virtual assets such as frequencies that form the information and technology network, as opposed to infrastructure which only referred to things like towers and cables.

Included in the problems telco providers see as “urgent” are the opening up of exclusive villages to the setting up of cellular telephone towers, which one of the speakers, Peter Leslie Wallace of the Wallace Business Forum said as “safe” and “pretty.” This was said in reference to the reasons why residents and homeowners’ association of subdivisions such as Forbes Park, Dasmarinas Village, Ayala Alabang oppose cell sites inside their enclaves.

“Cellular phone towers are not only safe, as proven by Rodney (Croft) but are also pretty, at least for engineers,” Wallace said in his speed on the second day of the conference.

The day before, Dr. Rodney Croft of the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection, presented clear data on the safety of non-ionizing radiation, dispelling unfounded statements that cell sites can cause illnesses, including cancer.

Salalima on the other hand, challenged that representatives of the Department of Interior and Local Government to shorten to seven working days the processing of the set-up of cell sites in local government units. 

“What takes 2 to 3 months can be done in seven days,” he said.

This maximum number of days to process licenses and permits for putting up infrastructure needed to for telecommunication operations is the action upon the request of telco operators. In the summit it was repeatedly mentioned that in the Philippines, there are only about 16,000 cell towers. In comparison, Vietnam, has 75,000 cell sites but with only about 25 percent of the Philippines’ 130 million subscribers. 

Secretary Salalima is confident that if this recommendation is followed, system improvement can happen within 6 months.  

The need for a 3rd telco player was also brought and Salalima agreed to the suggestion. Other speakers such as Wallace, countered by saying there is no room for an additional telco provider if there is also no real financial investment and that there is no resolution for frequency allocation. Moreover the return of investment of a new player may take up longer considering that it took 5 years to build the initial infrastructure of Smart and Globe and two decades to hit break even. Wallace said this was based on the current revenue declarations of both Smart and Globe. Both players also control roughly 50:50 of the subscriber base, which means a new player will need to pour in a significant investment in marketing to chew into the market.

Salalima emphasized the need to have a clear timeline.

“Solutions with no deadlines are no solutions at all,” he said.

Thus at the end of the summit, who important draft bill and one Executive Order were inked. 

First was “An Act strengthening the vital role of information and communications technology, amending for the purpose pertinent provisions of Presidential Decree 957, also known as the “Subdivision and Condominium Buyer Protective Decree”, as amended by Presidential Decree 1216.”

The second “An Act providing for the telecommunications technology readiness of buildings and structures, amending certain sections of Presidential Decree 1091, otherwise known as the “National Building Code”

The draft Executive Order “Mandating All Local Government Units and Agencies to Expedite Processing of Permits and Licenses” will be presented to President Duterte to sign. 

Salalima closed the summit asking for the full cooperation of all stakeholders emphasizing through a call to Divine Providence, the changes needed and the empowerment of all stakeholders.
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